Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CVF Debuts new Fall 2010 California Online Voter Guide!

We are pleased to announce the debut of the latest edition of our California Online Voter Guide!  Way back in 1994 the California Voter Foundation produced the very first California Online Voter Guide.  Our nonpartisan election guide is now in its 20th edition!

Secretary of State candidates debate the issues on KQED

Last Friday KQED FM's Dave Iverson hosted an excellent show on the "Forum" program featuring the major and minor party candidates for Secretary of State.  The first half of the one hour show includes a lively discussion between Democratic incumbent Debra Bowen and Republican challenger Damon Dunn on topics such as election security and the status of the state's voter registration database program.  An archive of the show is available from the KQED web site.

Riverside Press-Enterprise: Online Voter Registration still years off

Last week's Press Enterprise featured this excellent story by Jim Miller describing the obstacles California is facing in implementing a new statewide voter registration database that would enable online voter registration in California.  Excerpts from the story are below.


SACRAMENTO - California residents can go online to pay car fees, check out library books and enroll in college courses.
Yet when it comes to one of the biggest parts of life in a democracy -- registering to vote -- the Internet remains a bit player.
The deadline to register to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election is a month away. But it likely won't be until the Nov. 4, 2014, election, at the earliest, that voters will be able to sign up electronically.
In May, the secretary of state's office canceled a contract with a Chicago-based company to design a new, federally required database of California's nearly 17 million voters. The state office said the company was in default on parts of the agreement, which was supposed to produce a new database by early 2012.
The cancellation delays indefinitely the implementation of a related state law that calls for online voter registration, but only after the new database is in place. That database, known as VoteCal, now is not scheduled to be finished until 2014.
Inland election officials and others around the state, meanwhile, have rebuffed a recent pitch by a Northern California software company to allow people to register electronically right away using touchscreen devices such as Apple's iPhone. The secretary of state's office maintains that state law currently prevents online registration.
The situation, in the home state of Silicon Valley, where the Internet is a major part of people's lives, frustrates voter groups.
Online voter registration, they say, would increase voter participation by making it much easier for new voters to sign up and voters of all ages to re-register after they move. In addition, supporters say, online registration would save money by reducing the number of paper forms election offices must handle.
Arizona, Washington and Kansas were the first states to offer online voter registration. Louisiana, Colorado, Oregon, Indiana and Utah are expected to have online registration systems up and running for the November election.
One California county already is pushing the envelope.
Santa Clara County has accepted seven electronic voter registrations since earlier this year, a spokeswoman said. The registrations were a test by Verafirma, a Silicon Valley company that has developed software letting people register to vote using touchscreen devices.
"We are in favor of them. We'll definitely continue to accept them," said Santa Clara elections spokeswoman Elma Rosas.
Late last month, Verafirma sent letters to other county election offices asking them to accept electronic registrations, as well. There have been no takers.
"At this time the secretary of state's position is that these registrations are not legal," said Keri Verjil, San Bernardino County's registrar of voters, who received the letter.
In a May 25 memo to counties, the secretary of state's office wrote, "It is clear the law does not provide a framework" for accepting electronic voter registrations right now. The state, though, has not moved to void the Santa Clara County registrations.
Verafirma argues that current state rules require only that voter registration forms be "mailed or delivered."
The rules don't specify that the "delivered" form has to be paper; it would be fine for counties to accept e-mailed forms created by the company's software, the company contends.
Jude Barry, Verafirma's co-founder, said the firm's software "is not only the wave of the future, it's the reality of the present.
"We can do this in California today, without spending millions of dollars or missing two election cycles," Barry said.
Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said Verafirma has a different reading of the law than does Bowen's office.
"We also understand they have a financial stake in that," Winger said.
Database problems
Congress, meanwhile, is weighing a bill that would require states to make online voter registration available by 2016. The measure is pending in the House.
It's the latest federal proposal dealing with election procedures. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to prevent the kinds of ballot problems that marred the 2000 presidential campaign.
The measure required states to improve their voter registration databases within a few years; California received more than $50 million for the project. The state, though, is still using an earlier system.
The latest setback came in May, when Bowen's office canceled an $18.3 million contract with Catalyst Consulting Group Inc. of Chicago. It settled with the company for about $1.8 million, Catalyst principal Travis Bloomfield said.
Catalyst had been the only bidder from an earlier bid process. In a May 4 letter to Catalyst, Bowen's office said the company had failed to post a performance bond, missed key deadlines and had other problems.
Recent state history is filled with troubled computer upgrades, such as a botched database project at the DMV. Bowen canceled the Catalyst contract to "avoid the potential of drawn-out process, litigation and delays," Winger said.
Bloomfield, though, said the company had its own issues with the secretary of state's office. Catalyst had built the same kind of voter database in Illinois with no problems, he said.
"We didn't get stupid overnight," Bloomfield said.
Damon Dunn, Bowen's Republican opponent in November, accused her of bungling the VoteCal database project. If he wins, Dunn said, he also would not allow people to register to vote online before the new database is in place.
The VoteCal bidding process is scheduled to start again in mid-2011. It's unclear how many would-be database vendors who didn't finish, or ignored, the last bidding process would participate this time.
Catalyst won't be among them, Bloomfield said. Other companies also will be leery of dealing with Bowen's office, he predicted. "Everyone knows who's there, which might make people reluctant to bid on it," he said.
But Winger said Bowen "is confident there are many talented technology company that have dealt with large IT projects" that will bid on the database work.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Politics and Social Media panel this evening in Sacramento; live on Ustream at 7 p.m.

This evening I'm on a "Politics and Social Media" panel organized by the Sacramento Social Media Club, taking place at the Urban Hive in midtown at 20th and H.  Here are all the event details - program starts at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live via Ustream until 8:30 (that's the plan, anyway!). It should be an interesting discussion -- the Sacramento Social Media Club has put together a diverse set of panelists:

Kim Alexander, President and Founder, The California Voter Foundation
Steve Maviglio, Principal, Forza Communications
Bryan Merica, President, ID Media and co-founder, Fox and Hounds Daily
Chandra Sharma, Director of Technology and New Media, Meridian Pacific, Inc
Seth Unger, Communications Director for the Assembly Republican Caucus
Torey Van Oot, Capitol Alert correspondent, Sacramento Bee

Here's the gist of what I'll be saying:

When I think of political practices online, I think about what the founders of the Internet envisioned this technology could create.  They had a very egalitarian, inclusive view of the world and hoped the Internet would democratize politics, enable more people to participate more effectively, help raise the public’s voice, balance out the imbalances between big money and grassroots.  I would say that while the Internet is probably a lot more “dot com” than what they imagined, it is still a place where a true grassroots cause can take off like wildfire, and where someone can put a creative, low-budget video together and post it on YouTube and get a million views.